Gal Litvak

What we are / what we aren’t

What we are what we aren’t is a VR experience that combines technology, design and cognitive science to challenge or sense of separateness from our environment.

Distorting our bodily perception

This experimental project was created to examine the relationship between ourselves and our environment. I wanted to challenge the sense of separateness between self and that which surrounds us. The idea was inspired by new research done in the field of cognitive science into the way we perceive our sense of bodily self and how that perception can be manipulated. Researchers have been able to produce the illusion of ownership over a virtual body and even the sense of drifting outside of one’s body with the use of new VR technology.

One famous exercise used to create such a shift in bodily perception is the rubber hand illusion. In it a subject’s hand is hidden behind a screen and out of sight, and in it’s place a rubber hand is placed. The real, concealed hand and the rubber hand are touched repeatedly in synchrony to produce the illusion of ownership over the rubber hand - the rubber hand is perceived by the subject to be their real hand. Scientists have been able to do something similar on a larger scale of one’s whole body, using VR and haptic feedback. By using an avatar and synchronizing a virtual object touching the avatar with real vibrating motors touching the user, they have been able to create the illusion of ownership over a virtual body. Meaning, participants felt that the virtual body they saw through their VR googles was their own body.

Setting up the rubber hand illusion where a girl's real hand is hidden behind a screen and a rubber hand is placed infront of her.

For me these ground breaking discoveries represented an exciting new approach towards the way we understand our bodily selves. I wanted to use these methods to try and stretch one’s perception of bodily self, to experience that which seems rigid and separated as fluid and part of of it’s environment.

In this project participants were equipped with a VR headset and vibrotactile bracelets that generated haptic feedback. At first, an illusion of ownership over a virtual body, which participants see through their VR headset, is established. Then, their point of view gradually moves out of their virtual body and floats to face it. Finally the virtual space around them dissolves into an abstract sky like space to produce a sense of absorption within that environment. The process is guided by a recording, instructing users through the experience on where to place their attention and what to do in-order to make this perceptual shift as strong as possible.

Three stages: 1. Participants are made to perceive their virtual body as if it were their own 2. Participants point of view shifts out of the body to produce an out of body experience 3. The space around dissolves to produce a sense of immersion with the virtual environment
Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3